Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Why Are We So Afraid Of Change? by Jannine Gallant

I've been thinking again. I can already see the eyes rolling. Bear with me. I learned something, so maybe you will, too. I've heard a lot of bitching and moaning on social media about Common Core math. Since my youngest daughter is a junior in high school, this new teaching method has no direct impact on me. But the problems I see posted on Facebook look ridiculous. My gut reaction has always been, "What insane person came up with this crap?" So, when a fellow author posted the following math problem off her child's homework, the response was typical.

"One Saturday, an orchard sold 83 bags of apples. There are 27 apples in each bag. Which expression represents the total number of apples sold?"
A. 16+6+56+21
B. 160+60+56+21
C. 160+60+560+21
D. 1,600 +60+560+21

I looked at it and shook my head. A storm of responses about "doing math the good old way" and not "complicating" the simple process of multiplying 83 X 27 followed. Except from one man who explained the steps to come up with the answer.


That wasn't so difficult to figure out. Hmmm, maybe this Common Core math isn’t totally out in left field, after all. I could actually do the math in my head to get the answer this way. I can't multiply 83X27 the old fashioned way in my head. So, while it looks complicated, I could figure it out with relative ease. But, what's the point in teaching this new method other than to start a firestorm of controversy and parent rebellion? After a bunch of haranguing comments about the idiots in charge who always have to change everything, this same man commented that the principle behind learning math this way makes understanding higher math (algebra and beyond) easier.

For me, an epiphany followed. I recalled a conversation I had with Tara when she was in AP Calculus. My daughter is very good at math. She loves it. When I asked how the other kids in the class were doing, she said it was harder for them, that only she and Jack understood the reasoning behind the math. Everyone else learned how to do it by memorizing, but they didn’t “get” why they did it. Oh boy, I could relate. I memorized and followed orders in math in high school and did well enough. But it never made sense to me, and I didn’t like math for that reason. Not surprisingly, Tara and Jack were the only two kids in the class who got a 5 on the AP Calculus test. The ability to actually understand why paid off. So, could it be that teaching this new Common Core method is an attempt to help kids understand math better and make learning advanced math simpler down the road? It’s a possibility. I hope it works for the millions of kids like I was who don’t understand (or like) math. Or maybe the guy on Facebook is totally crazy and the new method doesn’t help at all. I’ve no idea, but I’m throwing it out there.

But to get back to my original question, why do we all hate change so much? Why do we think anything new has to be stupid without taking the time to learn about it? The next time I blindly follow the trend of denouncing something I know nothing about, I’m going to stop and try to understand it first. The “old-fashioned way” doesn’t always have to be better. Case in point—computer vs. typewriter. So, my new motto is to embrace change.

That’s all I’ve got for now. For info on my books, which have nothing at all to do with math J, check out my WEBSITE.


Leah St. James said...

Interesting! I once tried to explain the principle of borrowing and carrying over in subtraction/addition to my younger son using props...probably grouping the appropriate numbers (representing columns), then physically moving them from column to column. My husband and son looked at me like I was speaking another language. Maybe I was ahead of my time!! :D

I'm one of those people who has to understand the why before I can get the process. I think if the kids are taught the foundation of the method (which I presume they are), it makes sense. But to take that example with no foundation, it looks like another language.

Thanks for explaining, Jannine! I feel a little bit smarter this morning! (I'm sure it won't last, but it's a nice feeling for the moment!)

Rolynn Anderson said...

Good job, Jannine. Change for a whole organization is hard (look how Americans still resist the metric system). Education favors the status quo because those taught by that system think that system must have been best. Sometime I think it's comfort with the familiar and the known that keeps us from advancing. I know as a H.S. principal, I battled every day to persuade teachers, parents and kids that there are better ways to do things. Thanks for being the parent who stopped to think about such a change.

Jannine Gallant said...

Leah, glad you feel smarter...LOL When you think about it, the way we all learned math is pretty convoluted with the borrowing, etc. This way is pretty straight forward. I also gathered from other comments on the original FB thread that this method has been taught in other countries for a while now.

Rolynn, I agree we all lean toward the familiar. Somehow I don't think the brilliant people who change the world for the better do that, however. Maybe school districts need to hold classes for parents to teach them this method so they can help their kids with homework. Or at least provide an online tutorial. If I can grasp the basic concept in 30 seconds, I would think most parents could learn the basics pretty quickly.

Ashantay said...

I attended a college that was grade-free. Instead, we were given a set of eight criteria to meet for graduation. This approach taught students how to learn, and to continue learning throughout life. I think because of that experience, I'm more comfortable with change because I have strategies to utilize, ways to remain flexible. Though I still have fear of the unknown, of course! There aren't many of us that can march forward with no idea of what will happen next - bless the ones who can. They make life better for us all. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

Barbara Edwards said...

Even after seeing your explanation, I don't get it. Not that I resist change, but I need things easy to grasp.

Jannine Gallant said...

What an interesting approach to college, Ashantay. Learning how to learn effectively would definitely make life a whole lot less challenging and more rewarding.

I actually think this concept is easier to grasp than the one we all learned, Barbara. My explanation probably needs fleshing out. And kids with fresh perspectives may have an easier time with it than those of us who've been taught a different method.

Alison Henderson said...

I've always embraced change - must be the eternal optimist in me - but I never understood or enjoyed math. I "learned" it well enough to get by, but that was about it. OG is currently taking an online math course to keep his brain young. The main thing he's learned so far is that every concept is taught differently than he remembered. He's actually doing pretty well looking at these things from a different perspective. Maybe you can teach an old dog new tricks!

Jannine Gallant said...

You sound like me, Alison. We're probably hardwired for words not numbers. Good for OG, both for taking the class and learning new tricks!

Margo Hoornstra said...

Okay I will admit to s minor eye roll going in, but you're right, I did learn something. Change takes initiative and dedication, maintaining the status would, not so much. I say anything that will help us better compete on the national stage is a good thing. I'm Tara taught You something? Are you going to tell her? LOL

Margo Hoornstra said...

Sorry. Working on my phone. Hence the typos.

Jannine Gallant said...

You're right, Margo. Making changes is hard. Sticking with the status quo is far easier. But we don't make any progress if we aren't will to take a risk and try something new!

Diane Burton said...

I hate it when I get comfortable with one thing and somebody changes it. (Did you hear my swearing over Windows 10?) I never "got" math. I still use a calculator to verify my math. I wish my math teachers had explain rationale instead of making us memorize stuff we didn't understand.

Alicia Dean said...

I don't normally resist change, but I still don't get this math, although your explanation was very intelligent. I suck at math, and perhaps because I'm deeply entrenched in the old way, this new math makes my head explode. But, I trust you, Jannine, so perhaps it is a better way. :)

Jannine Gallant said...

We all have a comfort zone, Diane. I sure do! But I think it's good to be forced out of it now and then. Makes us develop new skills. Memorization doesn't accomplish a whole lot because once the test is over, the kids forget everything they learned. It's a short term solution and applies to everything in life. As authors, we all use grammar every day. I don't think about the grammar rules we learned in school. I don't have to because I understand the purpose behind them. That should be the goal.

Jannine Gallant said...

I don't know if it's better, Ally. I don't know a whole lot about it. I thought it looked crazy and complicated, too, at first glance. What I do think is instead of dismissing it immediately because it's new and different, we should give it a try. Since all of us have pretty much said we suck at math and don't understand it, maybe the old way of teaching wasn't so great.